Sunday, October 30, 2016

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was -- Week 3

Week 3 of the season was “A Tale of Two Games”…it was the worst of games, it was the best of games; it was the worst of special teams, it was the best of special teams; it was a game of Holtby, it was the game of Grubauer…you get the picture. 

Record: 1-1-0

On the one hand, it was a light schedule, what with just two games on the docket.  On the other, they were in western Canada in the most distant road trip of the young season.  Last season, when the Caps took a similar four-game road trip to the western provinces, the Caps opened with three wins.  One of them was against the Edmonton Oilers, then a precocious team with iffy defense and goaltending that the Caps beat by a 7-4 margin.  This time around, the Oilers got their four goals, but things might be turning around in the Edmonton end of the ice in their new arena, where the Caps managed but one goal.  The Caps followed up the 4-1 loss in Edmonton with what might have been their best all-around game of the season. They dominated possession, had balanced scoring, and held an opponent to two or fewer goals for the fifth time in seven games (not counting shootout goals). 

Offense:  3.00/game (season: 2.71 /game; rank: T-15th)

Scoring one goal against Edmonton was surprising in one respect, the Caps being among the most skilled and deepest offenses in the league, largely returning the league’s second-ranked scoring offense from last season.  On the other hand, the Oilers, who allowed three or more goals in their first three games of the season, allowed a total of one goal in two games leading up to their game against the Caps. They allowed only one goal to the Caps and as of the end of the week allowed just two goals over four games.

Meanwhile, the Caps unloaded on the Vancouver Canucks, scoring five goals for the first time this season, getting points from nine different skaters, and dominating the possession numbers (a 56-35 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5).  And it came with a couple of unexpected results.  The Caps got a five-goal game without any of them off the stick of Alex Ovechkin (the first time in 11 five-goal games he did not light the lamp), and Tom Wilson – that would be second-line Tom Wilson – got his first of the season with assists from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson on a snipe that was certainly no fluke.

Defense: 3.00/game (season:  2.14/game; rank: 6th)

The Caps are proving to be a rather difficult team to play against in two related respects that were on display in Week 3.  They allowed Edmonton only 29 shots on goal and Vancouver only 25 shots on goal, ending the week with six straight games holding opponents under 30 goals and not yet having allowed as many as 30 shots in regulation time this season (they allowed Pittsburgh 28 shots in regulation and two in overtime in the season opener).  The Caps and Oilers split 90 shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the 4-1 Edmonton win, but Washington held the Canucks to just 35 5-on-5 shot attempts, just 0.72 shot attempts per minute at fives.  The Caps ended the week allowing the third-fewest shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (48.48; numbers from

Goaltending: 3.00 /.889 (season: 1.99 / .921 / 1 SO)

The goaltending was efficient and inefficient in Week 3, but no in ways one might expect.  Braden Holtby took the loss in Edmonton, allowing four goals on 29 shots.  It was his second straight game with a save percentrage south of .900, and they are the only two times in which he allowed more than two goals.  Allowing a goal to Patrick Maroon when he lost track of the puck barely a minute after the Caps got within a goal was a tough play and a difficult position in which Holtby found himself, but it was a much the turning point in the contest as any other.

In the second game of the week, Philipp Grubauer did what a backup needs to do, provide solid minutes.  He might not have been as sharp as he was in his shutout of the Colorado Avalanche in Week 2, but he was solid against the Canucks, stopping 23 of 25 shots, including all six he faced as the Caps pulled away from a one-goal lead to start the third period to a 5-2 win.

Power Play: 1-for-5 / 20..0 percent (season: 14.3 percent; rank: 23rd)

Well, they got one.  With one power play goal in two games, the Caps avoided ending the week with the fewest power play goals in the league.  As it is, the three they have so far through seven games is tied with the four other teams just ahead of the New York Islanders with two extra man goals.  Marcus Johansson did the honors against the Canucks, joining T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin as the only power play goal scorers so far this season.  It was not the prettiest of goals, coming off an Oshie shot that hit the post and dropped into the crease about 12 inches from the goal line from where Johansson could swipe it in.

You could say the Caps were victimized somewhat by bad luck.  It was not for lack of shots; they had 12 shots on goal in 8:40 of power play ice time, a healthy 1.39 shots per power play minute.  T.J. Oshie had five of those 12 shots but did not convert any of them, although his miss when hitting a post resulted in Johansson’s oower play goal.  What the Caps diod not get, shooting-wise, was a lot from Alex Ovechkin who had two power play shots against Edmonton and none against Vancouver.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-7 / 85.7 percent (season: 76.2 percent; rank: 23rd)

After allowing a power play goal to the Edmonton Oilers in the first game of the week, the Caps finally stopped the bleeding on their penalty kill, denying the Canucks a goal on any of their three man advantages.  It was the first time since Game 3 against Colorado that the Caps did not allow a power play goal (they didn’t allow a goal of any kind in that one). 

The Caps held Vancouver to three power play chances after allowing four chances to the Oilers in the first game of the week, and in that respect, avoiding shorthanded situations has been the best penalty killing tool they have.  By week’s end, the Caps held opponents to three or fewer power play chances  five times in seven games. 

It was an efficient penalty kill in denying shots. In the two games the Caps allowed just ten shots on seven power plays covering 12:43 in shorthanded ice time (0.79 shots per minute).  Perhaps the Caps are turning a corner here.

Faceoffs: 66-for-132 / 50.0 percent (season: 51.4% / rank: 7th)

Two games, one over 50 percent, on under, two players finishing the week with more than 10 draws and a winning percentage over 50 percent (Nicklas Backstrom: 53.6 percent; Jay Beagle: 52.0 percent), two players finishing the week with at least ten draws and winning less than 50 percent of them (Lars Eller: 48.0 percent; Evgeny Kuznetsov: 45.7 percent).  Little wonder that the Caps split 132 draws right down the middle (66 wins, 66 losses) for the week.  If there was a noteworthy performance, it was Justin Williams against Vancouver.  He won all six draws he took, including four in the offensive end. 

Goals by Period:

If there is something the Caps still need work on, it is that second period.  While they won the first and third periods of the week, they are still coming up short in the second period.  It was another case of allowing as many goals in the second period (three) as in the first and third periods combined.  Their minus-6 goal differential in the second periods of games is tied for the fourth-worst in the league.  Given that the Caps are tied for the best first period goal differential (plus-6) and tied for the third-best third period goal differential, it’s clear that the second period is a problem that needs to be addressed.

In the end…

If you subscribe to the idea that you are only as good as your last game, then the Caps had a good week.  Yeah well, that goes only so far.  Splitting weeks is not the game plan, road trip notwithstanding.  But look at it this way.  The Caps have gone 33 consecutive weeks without a losing week (27 winning weeks and six .500 weeks) since Week 23 of the 2014-2015 season.  That is some impressive consistency.  

Three Stars:
  1. First Star: Marcus Johansson (2-1-3, plus-2, game-winning goal, five shots on goal)
  2. Second Star: T.J. Oshie (1-1-2, plus-1, eight shots on goal, 12 shot attempts, two blocked shots)
  3. Third Star: Matt Niskanen (0-2-2, plus-2, three hits)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 8: Capitals at Flames, October 30th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals play the second of their first set of back-to-back games this season when they head to Calgary to take on the Flames on Sunday night.  The Caps, fresh off a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night, will look to win consecutive games for the first time since winning three in a row in Games 2-4.

In the Flames, the Caps will be taking on a hot team on rest.  Calgary beat Ottawa on Friday night at home, 5-2, extending their winning streak to three games and giving them a 4-2-0 record since starting the season with three straight losses (0-2-1).

Calgary comes into this game with balanced scoring, eight players having recorded at least five points through nine games.  Johnny Gaudreau leads that group with seven points and has two straight two-point games coming into the contest with Washington.  He is establishing himself as one of the best of a new generation of goal scorers.  Only three players – teammate Sean Monahan (62), Nikita Kucherov (60), and Filip Forsberg (59) – have more goals among players 23 or younger over the last three seasons than Gaudreau (56), who is in his third NHL season.  What he has not done is score a goal against the Caps.  In four career games against Washington, he has two assists and is minus-1.

Monahan is another of those players with at least five points and is tied for the team lead in goals with four.  The sixth-overall draft pick in 2013, Monahan has three straight 20-plus goal seasons on his resume coming into 2015-2016.  Four goals in nine games suggest he is on his way to a fourth straight such season and perhaps his second 30-plus goal campaign (he had 31 in his sophomore season, in 2014-2015).  The odd part of his season so far is that he does not yet have an assist to go with his four goals.  If he isn’t doing the scoring, bad things seem to happen when he is on the ice.  In four games scoring goals, the Flames are 3-1-0, and he is a combined plus-3.  In games in which he does not have a goal, the Flames are 1-3-1, and he is a combined minus-7.  Monahan is 4-2-6, plus-2 in six career games against the Caps.

The other four-goal scorer for the Flames is Michael Frolik.  Now in his ninth NHL season, Frolik is skating with his fourth club.  A player of considerable promise (10th overall draft pick to the Florida Panthers in 2006), he has never quite measured up to that lofty selection status.  He has not had a 20-goal season since his sophomore year with Florida in 2009-2010 (21 goals).  Last season, his first in Calgary, he had 15 goals in 64 games.  After getting three goals in his first four games, he has just one in his last five contests, but that came in the Flames’ 5-2 win over Ottawa on Friday.  In 23 career games against the Caps, Frolik is 7-7-14, minus-4.

1.  Calgary has the third worst special teams index in the league (84.6, combined power play and penalty killing efficiencies), ahead of only Arizona (83.1) and Chicago (72.6).

2.  The Flames have yet to record a power play goal at home, the last team in the league without a home power play goal.  They are 0-for-22

3.  No team has allowed more power play goals at home than the Flames (9, tied with Chicago).  Just as bad, no team has been shorthanded more times so far at home than Calgary (25, tied with Pittsburgh).  The Flames are shorthanded an average of 5.0 times per game on home ice. The Flames have a healthy lead on the rest of the league in minor penalties taken (49, five more than second-most Anaheim).

4.  First periods have been good to Calgary – they are tied for third in first period goals scored (9).  Third periods have been less kind – the Flames are tied for second in most third period goals allowed (12).

5.  Only two teams have been charged with more giveaways than the Flames (95) – San Jose (110) and Montreal (105).

1.  The Caps have yet to be out-shot by an opponent this season.  Seven games, seven times outshooting their opponents.  Three times they out-shot their opponent by at least ten shots.

2.  The Caps have allowed the first goal in a game just once, the fewest times allowing the game’s first goal in the league. That came in the Caps’ 4-1 loss to Edmonton last Wednesday.

3.  The Caps have only three players with five or more points, compared to the eight that the Flames have, but 17 of the 19 skaters to dress so far this season have at least one point.  Brett Connolly and Zach Sanford are looking for their first marks on the score sheet.

4.  The Caps have just four players in “minus” territory, but some of them are names you don’t expect (or like to see) there – Nicklas Backstrom (minus-1), Dmitry Orlov (minus-1), and Andre Burakovsky (minus-2).  Sanford is the other (minus-1).

5.  The Caps are second in the league in 5-on-5 possession (54.65 percent), trailing only the Los Angeles Kings ((57.02 percent Corsi-for; numbers from  They are fourth in league in road Corsi-for (55.21 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Brian Elliott/Chad Johnson

Goaltending has been consistent for the Flames so far, but not in quite the way they would like.  Brian Elliott, the number one netminder, and Chad Johnson have similar numbers. Elliott has a goals against average of 3.15, Johnson is at 2.89.  Elliott has a save percentage of .893, Johnson is at .901.  Their even-strength save percentages are decent (Elliott: .924, Johnson: .915), but their save percentage when a man short are not (Elliott: .778, Johnson: .824).   It is not surprising that the Flames have the 25th-ranked team shooting percentage against in the league (11.4 percent) and the 24th ranked scoring defense (3.44 goals against per game). Elliott is 6-3-0, 3.36, .883 in 11 career games against the Caps, while Johnson is 2-2-1, 2.58, .920 in five career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby appears likely to get the call in goal for the Caps against Calgary after giving way to Philipp Grubauer in Vancouver on Saturday night.  Holtby will have three full days of rest since his last appearance, the 4-1 loss to Edmonton last Wednesday.  Last year was one of consistency for Holtby in terms of his performance on a days-rested basis.  He was 3-0-0, 2.28, .934 when playing the second night in a row; 28-4-4, 2.30, .921 with two shutouts when playing with one day’s rest; 8-3-1, 1.89, .923, with one shutout on two days’ rest; and he was 8-2-2, 2.14, .923 when playing, as he would tonight, with three or more days’ rest.  What he has not been, though, is successful against the Flames. He is 2-1-1, 3.66, .852 in five career games against the Flames.  At least he finished his last three games against Calgary; he was relieved in the first period of each of his first two career appearances against the Flames.  In his last three appearances against Calgary he has been more the beneficiary of shot suppression.  The Caps held the Flames to 20 or fewer shots in each of those games.  Holtby’s save percentage in those games is just .889, although he has two wins and an overtime loss in them.

In the end…

The Caps played well last night against Vancouver.  They were even dominating at times, especially in pinning the Canucks in their end of the ice.  The chore now is to put two such games together.  It has not been a problem of defense, nor has it even been one of the way the offense has played, necessarily. It has been a matter of results, converting opportunities at even strength and the power play.  That is what the Caps got last night in a balanced scoring effort.  So…two in a row?  Two in a row.

Capitals 5 – Flames 2

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 7: Washington Capitals 5 - Vancouver Canucks 2

It might have been a bit too long coming for Capitals fans, but the Caps shook off the rust that was clogging their offensive game and won a 5-2 decision over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.  It was the first time in seven games that the Caps recorded more than four goals in a game and just the second time they recorded more than three goals.

The offense for the Caps did not come early, but when it arrived it did so in waves. Late in the first period, Brendan Gaunce tried to backhand the puck off the side boards and out of the Vancouver zone, but managed only to get as far as Matt Niskanen at the blue line.  Niskanen sent a shot at the Canuck net, just as Marcus Johansson was crossing in front in the low slot. Johansson got enough of the puck as it was sailing by to redirect it past goalie Jacob Markstrom, and it was 1-0 for the Caps at the 17:17 mark.

Fifteen seconds later, the Caps had a 2-0 lead. From behind his net, Markstrom tried to send the puck around the boards and out of danger, but Karl Alzner pinched down the wall and sent the puck back the way it came.  Johansson got to the puck and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov behind the cage.  Kuznetsov sent the puck out into the high slot where Tom Wilson was filling in.  His shot snuck under a leaping Alzner and past Markstrom at the 17:33 mark.

It might have made for a great end to the first period, but Vancouver halved the lead with just 5.6 seconds left when Jannik Hansen was left all alone to the right of goalie Philipp Grubauer, in the right position to snap home a rebound of an Eric Gudbranson shot to close the first period scoring.

Washington restored their two-goal lead mid-way through the second period on a power play.  Nicklas Backstrom patiently surveyed the Canuck defensive layout from the right wing wall, selecting T.J. Oshie for a shot from between the hash marks. Oshie’s drive hit the post to Markstrom’s right and caromed behind him to the other side of the net.  Johansson batted home the loose puck before Markstrom could recover, and it was 3-1 8:58 into the period. 

Vancouver got back within a goal late in the period, a case of just one too many Canucks getting to loose pucks in close.  A shot by Jake Virtanen was stopped by Grubauer, but the puck popped out to Sven Baertschi to Grubauer’s left.  His shot caromed behind Grubauer to Bo Horvat on the other side of the net, and Horvat had a lay up to make it 3-2 with just 2:43 left in the period.

Washington nursed the one-goal lead for 17 minutes of the third period; then they put the game away.  Nate Schmidt fed the puck from his blue line up to Andre Burakovsky sailing down the right wing.  Gaining the Vancouver zone, Burakovsky fed the puck to T.J. Oshie skating down the middle.  Oshie unloaded a howitzer that beat Markstrom cleanly over his blocker, and it was 4-2 with just 2:27 left in the game. 

Karl Alzner closed the scoring when he collected a loose puck in the corner to the left of Grubauer and fired the puck off the boards and down the ice, a shot that took six full seconds from Alzner’s stick to the back of the empty Canuck net (we timed it).  And with that, the two-game losing streak was history, Caps beating the Canucks, 5-2.

Other stuff…

-- Goals by Tom Wilson and Karl Alzner were their first goals of the season, respectively.

-- T.J. Oshie’s “assist” on Marcus Johansson’s power play goal, coming off a shot attempt that hit the post and caromed to Johansson, was Oshie’s first assist of the season.

-- The Caps killed all three Vancouver power plays, breaking a three-game streak in which the Caps allowed a power play goal.  It was the second time in seven games the Caps shut out the opponent’s power play.

-- Every Capital had at least one shot on goal except Dmitry Orlov and Zach Sanford.

-- The Caps were 14-for-23 on offensive zone faceoffs (60.9 percent), offsetting a 12-for-25 effort in the defensive zone (48.0 percent).

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had an assist, making it four games in five that he recorded a point.  He also was on the good side of 50 percent on draws (7-for-13/53.8 percent), which has not been a regular feature of his game this year.

-- This was the sixth straight game in which the Caps allowed fewer than 30 shots on goal.  They have yet to allow more than 30 in a game this season, having allowed 30 shots to Pittsburgh in the season opener against the Penguins.

-- Alex Ovechkin did not record a point, the first time he failed to record a point in a game in which the Caps scored five or more goals since he was blanked in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on November 12, 2015.  He had at least a point in ten straight games in which the Caps scored five or more goals until last night.

-- Andre Burakovsky had a bit of an odd game.  He had an assist, three shots on goal, five shot attempts.  He did not have another mark on his score sheet.  No hits, no blocked shots, no takeaways, no giveaways, no faceoffs taken.

-- The Caps had an overwhelming possession edge, outshooting Vancouver, 31-20 at 5-on-5, and out-attempting them 56-35 (61.5 percent Corsi-for; numbers from

In the end…

Good game, good timing.  This is more what Caps fans expect, but it is hard to perform at this level consistently, especially on the road.  But the Caps got a lot of contributions from a lot of different sources.   Four different players had goals (none named “Ovechkin), and nine of the 18 skaters had points, including three of the six defensemen (Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, and Nate Schmidt).  It was a nice result to serve as just the lead-in for the next game, Sunday night against Calgary.